Hunt The Black Bear Rut

Not what you’re looking for? Find more articles on hunting predatory animals!

The black bear rut occurs in late spring and early summer, peaking during the first couple weeks of June. During this time, hunting long hours in healthy bear populated areas, with properly set up bait stations or pre-scouted areas with natural forage, will likely yield bear sightings of all colours, sex and sizes. Hunting bigger, mature boars is tougher, as these smart, weary creatures seldom drop their guard, unlike the younger, foolish ones. But the rut holds the best opportunities to catch these breeding bruins throwing caution to the wind and seeking a mate.

Whether you’re baiting bears or stalking them, a sure-fire way to fail is to ignore this cardinal rule: “Hunt bears where bears are.” Of course, this is easier said than done. For starters, choose Wildlife Management Units that have historical healthy bear populations and then hone in on key areas with abundant food and heavy, cool, damp cover. Marshy areas with beaver ponds can yield excellent results, as the beaver is a favourite meal for black bears, along with fish. Bears are omnivores, so they also chow down on greenery like clover and dandelions. Find low-lying topography alongside water sources as it’ll likely green-up first, thus attracting bears to that area in early spring when they’re at their hungriest. Scout using satellite imagery and topographical maps. Put your boots to the ground to confirm suspected travel routes and feeding areas.

After deciding on one or more areas to hunt, select slightly open areas adjacent to heavy cover and travel routes to set up bait stations, if you’re baiting. Otherwise, spot and stalk will require locating a concealed vantage point overlooking a food source or travel route. For those that cannot sit still, plan routes to drive or walk through bear feeding areas.

Bait stations should consist of one or more 50-gallon barrels, filled with food and secured to a tree. If your bait doesn’t have a putrid odour, consider getting something really smelly like rotten meat, fish guts or beavers to attract bears to your bait stations, especially if foods have been offered for over a week and no bears have visited. It’s a best practice to build a fence or a crib to force the bear to come right into the barrel from the same direction each and every time, allowing the shooter a quality broadside shot.

Bears have an incredible sense of smell and will more than likely approach the feeding area from the downwind side to sense any danger. Consider the prevailing winds or setting up multiple shooting positions for all wind directions. As the shooter, you want to be able to see the bear approaching, but also remain undetected until it’s within shooting range. If you plan on hunting dusk and dawn, ensure your set up does not require you to pass by the feeding bears in the dark, as this can startle bears. One such evening last spring, I was bow hunting a large boar on bait; he didn’t show up, but three other boars did and were having a feast. Darkness fell and the time had come for me to get down from my tree stand. It was an uneasy feeling, descending to the ground so close to a hungry bear trio. I had my bear spray in case of danger, but gladly didn’t have to use it and retreated quietly to my truck without incident.

Eventually, most bear hunters begin to target large, mature boars to harvest. These bruins are smart and few and far between, like any Boone and Crockett-class animal. Big bears roam large areas for food and breeding mates. In early spring, food is the number one priority, but as daylight hours get longer and May rolls into June, they travel kilometres in search of hot sows coming into estrus. A sow can breed once she’s matured at nearly four years of age. The same goes for boars. However, depending on herd dynamics, these young bears will now have to compete with older bruins for a mate, something that’ll take a few more years of trial and experience. The rut is a superb time to hunt large boars as they roam seeking mates. With breeding at the top of their mind, they can make mistakes they wouldn’t normally.

Early in the spring bear hunting season, it seems big boars are somewhat predictable on bait sites or feeding grounds. Dusk and dawn, when it’s coolest, produce the best chances to spot and harvest these big bears. During this time, they’re simply feeding, but also checking which sows have cubs and which don’t. Because bears breed every other year, the sows with new cubs can be ignored. The lone sows and sows with yearling cubs are taken note of and the big boars continually check them by visiting them and smelling them. A sow will be in estrus for weeks and a boar will court her for days until she’s receptive. As the rut peaks, males will not leave estrus-smelling sows until he mates with her, but afterwards, he’ll be off seeking another sow to mate. This peak rut behavior makes big boars as unpredictable as wind gusts – they can appear at any time, from anywhere, chasing anything, from young to old sows or be fighting off other feisty boars trying to warm up to a sow. Boars can check up on as many as half a dozen sows each and every day, which makes for lots of travel, so ambushing trails are a good set up.

As with any type of hunting, there are no guarantees, but rest assured spring starts with big boars initially roaming for food sources and then switches to them seeking females to breed. Either time is a good time for hunting big boars. Trail cameras set up at bait sites during early May can really help a hunter define a feeding pattern. But once the middle of May comes and the rut begins, scheduled feeds for big boars lessen and their nose constantly sniffs for smells of estrus. Areas with many bears will have male confrontations. You’ll notice a posture change when multiple boars are feeding together: they’ll drop their head and make gurgling sounds. Sometimes they also make a popping sound with their jaw by clacking their teeth when they’re agitated or feeling nervous. Last spring, our hunting party had a great bait site set up on a large river tributary, concealed down a marshy cutline kilometres from anything resembling a road. The strange thing was, we had nothing but boars (to the best of our identification abilities) hitting the bait right up until Victoria Day weekend. Like clockwork, groups of boars would devour any meat we offered them in the barrels. One night, the trail camera photographed six bears at once, all trying for a piece of the action. While hunting the bait site, the larger boars’ body posture was noticeably different from night to night as the rut heated up. The larger, more mature boars would assert dominance by approaching other smaller boars directly and head on with an “I’m the boss” swagger in their step. They’d also appear large and stand up with their chest out and head held high. Subordinates had physical cues such as backing up and moving aside, or sometimes retreating all together (quickly or slowly) when a certain bear would appear. The intensity of the confrontations increased after the middle of May. Interestingly enough, this same bait site a week later was ghostly for bears. Visits from dominant bears noticeably dropped off, despite continuing to provide their favourite food.

Sows, on the other hand, will continue to feed at their favourite bait sites until more organic food supplies are available, like crops or berries, frequently spending long hours camped right at the barrel. For hunters seeking big boars, this is generally good, assuming two things. One, you know big boars have come out of this WMU before, and two, you have enough bait to keep feeding the sows (and potentially some yearling cubs). A set up like this is bait hunting at its finest. The hunter is baiting with food that is attracting and holding sows, which additionally interests breeding boars.

With set ups like this, it’s not unusual for the larger, dominant boars to hang up outside the bait site. Watching this unfold night after night can be frustrating. You, as the hunter, have options though. First, take note of the wind direction and location of the boar that is hanging up. If the same wind occurs again on the next hunt, set up to shoot, not at the bait site, but where the boar is hanging up and feels safe. You can also chance it and hope that the sow will become receptive while at the bait site. When this happens, boars will often throw caution to the wind and commit to breeding the sow at all costs, including entering an area (bait site) they know could be dangerous. During late May and early June, camp on any bait sites with sows; you just never know when things will change.

A few years ago, I was hunting a bait site where I had trail camera pictures of a very large boar that was running off other, smaller male bears. When he entered, other bears either cleared out or kept a humbling safe distance. I’d also witnessed smaller bears running through the bait site at top speed, which wasn’t their usually slow, cautious, sauntering demeanor. Unfortunately, this particular bait site was new and I hadn’t thought it through enough. The cover was thick right up until the bait site opening; there were a few places I could see through the trees, but they weren’t by any means ethical shooting lanes. The weekend after Victoria Day, I was hunting from a tree stand three consecutive days and for the third straight day, I observed the target bear out of range and safe from my arrow. He had no interest in eating; he was only monitoring the sows hitting the bait. Had this bait site been prone to a different tree stand location near the boar’s safe zone, I would have set them up that morning, but like I mentioned, I hadn’t thought it through.

The last five days of May and first 10 of June have historically proven to have high rut activity. I’ve witnessed boars scrapping and trailing a sow’s every move. Good indicators that breeding is taking place are lone cub sightings, either at bait sites or just along travel routes. Big boars, similar to whopper whitetail bucks after they breed their first female, start roaming, looking for another receptive mate. Any bait site or area with sows visiting frequently is an opportunistic location to harvest a large, mature black bear during the rut.

Spending abundant time at strategically located bait stations or areas with fresh bear sign will always remain a great starting point for hunting black bears. If it’s a big, smart boar you’re after, you’ll need to be careful with every move you make. Big bears are weary, but during the rut they tend to let their guard down a little, seeking sows and giving you the chance you need. Remain safe and tweak your set up as required.

Hunting big boars is challenging, yet rewarding. They’re smart, cautious creatures that seldom let their guard down, unlike the younger, foolish ones, which can be quite entertaining. The peak of the rut from late May to early June can produce excellent opportunities at these breeding bruins, so look for dominant males, lonely sows and set up accordingly for success.

Outdoor Edge, May/June 2014

Join us on Facebook!

Do you like what you’re reading? Subscribe to Western Sportsman print edition today!

Find more articles on hunting predatory animals!

This entry was posted in Hunting, Predator and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.